Five Taliban leaders swapped for U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl in 2014 have joined the group’s political office in Qatar, it said on Wednesday, where tentative talks to end the Afghan conflict are ongoing.
The militants have authorized the former Guantanamo Bay detainees to “talk about peace,” a senior Taliban official told AFP on the condition of anonymity.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid confirmed their appointment in a WhatsApp message.
The announcement comes amid a flurry of U.S.-led diplomatic activity to convince Afghanistan’s largest militant group to negotiate an end to the 17-year war.
Earlier this month, newly appointed U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with Taliban representatives in Doha, where the militants have a political office that serves as a de-facto embassy. Less than two weeks later a top Taliban commander held in Pakistani detention for more than eight years was freed.
A senior Taliban leader told AFP the group had requested the release of Abdul Ghani Baradar and several others at the meeting with Khalilzad.
The five Taliban figures are believed to be closer to the group’s top leader Haibatullah Akhundzada than the existing members of the office.
The Taliban official said the appointments had been made at a “very sensitive” time and would help strengthen the Taliban’s political team.
Some observers saw the move as a good sign for renewed efforts to bring about peace in Afghanistan, which has been ravaged by war since 2001. “The Taliban are showing some positive gestures towards peace talks,” said political analyst Atta Noori. “The old team always failed to deliver because they were not given enough authority.”
But a Western diplomat in Kabul expressed cautious optimism. “It does look like they are preparing for something, what I don’t know,” he said.
Bergdahl was held captive by the Taliban for five years after deserting his U.S. military post in Afghanistan. He was released to U.S. special forces in 2014 in a swap for the five Afghan Guantanamo Bay detainees.
The Taliban leaders were transferred from the facility in Cuba to the custody of Qatar.